LJWorld.com weblogs Loose Ends

Privacy Becoming a Four Letter Word (PAIN)


Why is it that when we Americans try to 'fix' things, we insist on going to extremes? We're never satisfied with a Bandaid or surgery and stitches. Oh no, not us radical reformers. We won't be satisfied until we've performed a complete lobotomy, leaving common sense in the litter to be swept off the operating room floor.My son was recently prescribed an outrageously expensive medication. The doctor suggested I contact the insurance company to obtain pre-approval of coverage before filling the prescription. After maneuvering through the customary and annoying robotic 'prompts' I finally was connected to a human (I use the term loosely here). This 'person'proceeded to tell me that not only could he not give me (the child's mother) pre approval, he could not discuss any matter regarding my son with me (the child's mother) because it would be a violation of HIPA privacy policies (the kids are listed under their father's coverage and my coverage is separate but with the same company). Their father was out of town and not available, but hey, with his written approval, I, my son's mother, could become an 'authorized representative,' in a mere 7-10 business days. Three business days if we have a fax machine! No worries that my son was due to take the medication in 4 hours. Could I provide a blood sample? Maybe contribute some DNA? A copy of his birth certificate? Anything at all to prove he was flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood? What exactly would it take to prove my legitimacy as his mother, legal guardian, primary caregiver in my fight against shirts with all the power over his medical well-being?! Surely if they only checked their records they would find me listed as such. And no worries that I was simply trying to confirm if I would be charged $2,000 for the medication or simply the $100 deductible:just a minor question concerning a little chump change, right? The irony in all of this is they would ask no questions at all when I'm purchasing the medication, no identification necessary to hand over drugs for me to give him. But ask a question? How dare I! Hooooooooooray for HIPA.Now, no one questioned privacy rights when I followed the ambulance or slept in his hospital room. No one cared that our names were on two different insurance cards when I authorized his surgery. No one even asked for ID when nurses explained follow up medical procedures when he was discharged to my care. And it's only a wild hunch on my part, but I bet no one will care whether or not I'm an 'authorized representative' when they send me the bill.I know I'll sleep better knowing prying eyes can't peep into my medical files, but is there a limit to the lunacy?Anyone out there ever try to get your college student's grades? That's the equivalent of privacy treason! Attempting offenders are scolded before being sent to remain-in-the-dark purgatory. No matter that parents are the ones paying the tuition, purchasing the books and putting out the cash for room, board and expenses. Who do we possibly think we are to want to know if our kids are earning the grades to keep them in school? We should be ashamed of ourselves. Right.Swing pendulum, swing.Efforts to right wrongs are commendable. But a heavily-weighted, tethered ball careening from one extreme to the other can be a dangerous thing. Balance and common sense can be the casualties leveled in the process.Am I the only one scratching my head?


David Klamet 10 years, 5 months ago

Todays LJW editorial, http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2007/dec/07/closer_look, addresses a related issue--the enthusiasm which politicians have for "fixing" problems so that they can take credit for "doing something". HIPAA is one of many "solutions" to fix problems that few people ever encountered, at least in my experience. The cost and impact on patient care must surely be enormous. I'm sure situations like yours are commonplace.

One has to wonder if this medicine doesn't do more harm than the "illness" it was created to treat.

Ronda Miller 10 years, 5 months ago

I couldn't agree more with your frustration over this, Lori! I recently received a phone call from SRS because my daughter receives a monthly stipend from them via a father with a disability. I was told that because she is my daughter and I do not oversee what she does with her money that they would need to appoint someone to oversee it for her. No matter that the account and all checks are in both of our names, no matter that she is almost seventeen, no matter that she is a National Honor Society Student, or that she has been contacted by Yale. Now I can see if this problem was with someone who was quite young, involved a lot more money than what we are talking about, or with someone much less intelligent and mature than my daughter. We have the "grouping" theme going on in the states for some reason. I hear your frustration and it is good to get it out so perhaps, just perhaps, the pendulum can begin the slow swing back to sanity. Thank you for an insightful piece, and I hope your son is doing well!

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